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At Close Range (1986)

R | | Crime, Drama | 18 April 1986 (USA)
In 1978 Pennsylvania, an absentee father is reacquainted with his estranged teenage sons who become intrigued with his romanticized life of crime.


James Foley


Elliott Lewitt (story), Nicholas Kazan (story) | 1 more credit »
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2 wins & 2 nominations. See more awards »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Sean Penn ... Brad Jr.
Christopher Walken ... Brad Sr.
Mary Stuart Masterson ... Terry
Chris Penn ... Tommy (as Christopher Penn)
Millie Perkins ... Julie
Eileen Ryan ... Grandma
Tracey Walter ... Patch
R.D. Call ... Dickie
David Strathairn ... Tony Pine
J.C. Quinn ... Boyd
Candy Clark ... Mary Sue
Jake Dengel Jake Dengel ... Lester
Kiefer Sutherland ... Tim
Stephen Geoffreys ... Aggie
Crispin Glover ... Lucas


Based upon the true story of Bruce Johnston Sr., his son, and his brothers; together, they constituted one of suburban Philadelphia's most notorious crime families during the 1970s. Their criminal activities ranged from burglary, theft... and ultimately, murder. Written by LizFL

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


They were two live wires in a dead-end town, both searching for the only family they'd ever known...each other. See more »


Crime | Drama


R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Release Date:

18 April 1986 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Auf kurze Distanz See more »

Filming Locations:

Franklin, Tennessee, USA See more »


Box Office


$6,500,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$180,286, 20 April 1986, Limited Release

Gross USA:

See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Cinema '85, Hemdale See more »
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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Millie Perkins is only 9 yrs younger than Eileen Ryan. See more »


During the rape in the motel room, Brad Sr. chains the door, but the door is unchained/chained again in subsequent shots. See more »


Brad Whitewood Sr.: If it's blood, don't break it.
See more »

Alternate Versions

The UK cinema version was cut by 1 min 1 sec by the BBFC to remove scenes of a cockfight. The 1986 Rank video version was pre-edited by the distributors to remove most of the scene beforehand and subsequently the cuts were reduced to 14 secs. However MGM submitted the original cinema print for the 2003 DVD release and thus 49 secs were cut from the same scene. See more »


Referenced in Portlandia: Pickathon (2016) See more »


In Between Rainbows
Written by John Townsend and Charles John Quarto
Performed by John Townsend
See more »

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User Reviews

A chip off the old block?
21 April 2012 | by SpikeopathSee all my reviews

At Close Range is directed by James Foley and written by Elliott Lewitt and Nicholas Kazan. It stars Sean Penn, Christopher Walken, Mary Stuart Masterson, Chris Penn, Millie Perkins and Eileen Ryan. Music is by Patrick Leonard and Madonna and cinematography is by Juan Ruiz Anchia. Film is an adapted account of the Pennsylvania Johnston gang headed by Bruce Alfred Johnston Sr, who operated during the 60s and 70s.

Boy ain't got the life expectancy of a house fly.

The real life source of At Close Range is bleak and the makers don't shy from that marker. James Foley's movie is consistently downbeat, even when a snippet of hope rears its head, you sense that it is a waste of time latching onto it. Story is that of harsh family relations, it's often told with bleak passages and is violent, though never in a way that it feels vicarious, these passages are significant and they do not diminish the film's worth. It's an unpleasant movie in a lot of ways, but dovetailing deftly with the criminalisation of one Bradford Whitewood Junior (Sean Penn), a youngster reaching out for some father love from his estranged criminal pappy, Brad Senior (Walken), we get a love story trying to bloom, where the arrogance and naivety of youth hangs heavy in the atmospheric air. There's even a sense of youthful adventure lurking around the edges of the frame.

However, this isn't going to end well, it just can't, surely? Brad Junior is an outcast, a misfit, his life is in a rut, but he is instantly enthralled by what his father can give him, he can't see through his rose tinted spectacles what the audience can and the makers hold us in a vice like grip from the beginning to ensure we are there at the end. An instrumental version of Madonna's haunting pop single "Live to Tell" marries up darkly with the mood crafted, as does Anchia's photography, which looks like it has been shot through some MTV Gothic prism. The acting is powerhouse from S. Penn (intense and full of wrought emotion), Walken (utterly dominant as he shifts unerringly between the charm and nasty gears) and Masterson (naively endearing and makes us care for her Terry character).

It will be a bit too maudlin for some, while some of the Pennsylvania imagery comes close to negating the pervading sense of sadness. But to my mind this is an excellent slice of neo-noir and worthy of seeking out as long as you aren't looking to be cheered up! 8.5/10

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